Bob McLeod: NWT Indigenous Leaders Economic Forum

Yellowknife — December 12, 2018
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

It is good to be with you here today, and I want to thank Darrell Beaulieu for inviting me to join you at this NWT Indigenous Leaders Economic Forum.

The state of the NWT economy and what the future looks like for our people and businesses has been a top priority of the Government of the Northwest Territories.  Like you, our government knows that conversations about our economic future cannot happen in silos.  Leadership from all levels must come together if we are going to move beyond discussions and take real action.  Working together is key if we are to secure the economic future that our people want and need.  I’m glad to see that a focus of this forum is to work on solutions and to build unity through partnerships and action.

Earlier this year, I hosted a symposium of NWT Indigenous leaders to talk about how we can work together to support economic development and ensure that Northerners benefit from it.  This was an opportunity to have frank and honest discussions on the state of the NWT Economy.

During these discussions we heard loud and clear that new partnerships are necessary.  These partnerships amongst our governments, and organizations, and with others, are what will achieve real and positive change.

The time for action is now.

For a long time, our economy took care of itself. Abundant natural resources and strong commodity prices used to be all we needed to ensure that there were plenty of jobs and business opportunities to go around, and we didn’t need to do much as leaders and governments to keep it going.

But times have changes and the Northwest Territories economy is not what it used to be.

The Northwest Territories is the only jurisdiction in Canada that has yet to recover from the global financial crisis in 2008. Our GDP is still close to $1 billion less than what is was. Comparatively while Nunavut and Yukon have increased their GDPs in the hundreds of millions even billion dollar ranges during that time.

In 2008, almost half of the NWT’s economy came from resource development. While it is still the biggest single sector of our economy, its contribution to territorial GDP has significantly dropped and last year was just half of what it had been in 2008.

Natural resource development has been and will continue to be the main driver of the NWT economy. Diamonds may be forever, but diamond mines are not. The eventual closure of the NWT diamond mines will shrink the economy again by about $1.1 billion and lead to the loss of about 3,000 jobs.

These kinds of figures can be tough to hear, but it is important that we do not hide from them.  It is important that as leaders we act. Whether I’m talking to the federal government or businesses executives, or meeting with Northern Premiers and Indigenous leaders like you, my message is the same.  The Northwest Territories is ready, willing and able to support sustainable resource development, and we need more than just federal promises to help make that a reality for our people.

We need federal action and true federal partnership.

For our part, the GNWT sees the link between energy and transportation infrastructure as critical to achieving the strong economic and independent future that Northerners want. Transportation and energy infrastructure investments into projects like the Slave Geological Province Road and the Taltson Hydropower expansion are needed to lower the cost of living for residents and support the next wave of responsible resource development in the NWT.

Another area where the GNWT has focused its attention is on helping the federal government understand what it means to live and work in the North.  It is important they understand how we are unique and cannot be treated like southern jurisdictions when it comes to programs and funding, and how their decisions can have wide ranging effects.

I know that many of you have been having similar conversations with the federal government as well. Having this message consistently come from all us has been a good thing for the Northwest Territories.

During my meetings and conversations this past week in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, I saw evidence that our collective message is being heard. The Northwest Territories is open for business and looking for partners to help us capitalize on our significant potential.

There are encouraging signs that our federal partners are hearing our message and are prepared to make good on promises to invest in the North.

I have met with Minister LeBlanc several times since he took up his new post as Minister of Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs and Internal Trade.

I believe that he shares my commitment to supporting sustainable economic growth in the NWT. This is in line with the aspirations and priorities of Northerners. Developing offshore oil and gas resources can be a big part of the NWT’s economic future and a major source of prosperity for our people.

The announcement that Canada is ready to start the negotiations on management of oil and gas in the Beaufort Sea is a positive first step. These negotiations are an obligation set out in the Devolution Agreement signed in 2014. It also marks an understanding by the federal government that the Government of the Northwest Territories and Indigenous governments are the proper and responsible governments who should be making the decisions that impact the north.

The NWT is home to substantial reserves of onshore oil and gas that are also not being developed to their fullest potential. Responsible development of these onshore resources would be a huge lift to the economy of the NWT and of Canada and we are certainly interested in exploring all options that could lead to increased economic activity.

I know that there are many opinions about oil and gas development, but we cannot deny that it has been an important part of the Northwest Territories economy. Oil and gas exploration in the Sahtu, used to be an important source of economic opportunities for that region and Norman Wells has long depended on Imperial Oil’s refinery. Offshore and onshore oil and gas development and the Mackenzie Gas Pipeline also offers hope for significant employment and economic opportunities in the Beaufort Delta if we can find a way to advance it.

We are home to thriving diamond mines and have cobalt, gold, lithium, bismuth and rare earth elements necessary to fuel the global green economy.

Unfortunately, many of our resources are still largely untapped. Our world class oil and gas reserves are stranded by lack of corridor infrastructure, including a pipeline that has been permitted, but never built.

We know that opening a mine in the Northwest Territories can be six times more expensive than in other jurisdictions. Lack of roads leaves natural resources mostly inaccessible.

Lack of energy infrastructure, particularly transmission lines from our clean, renewable hydro facilities means remote mines have to rely on carbon intensive diesel fuel to be transported in which is expensive.

As with other resource-rich jurisdictions, finding better ways to transport our resources to markets is a major consideration that needs to be addressed. This includes the possibility for a northern pipeline route.
Strategic, deliberate investment in just some of these areas, as well as in marine infrastructure and ports, could unlock a wave of northern development.  This would provide jobs and opportunities to thousands, drive the national economy, and create a lasting legacy of public infrastructure for the people of the North. 

Our government continues to lobby the Government of Canada for a clear plan and solid commitments to address outstanding territorial needs so that Northerners can be full participants in a strong national economy.

As I stated at the start, partnership is key. These investments are significant opportunities for Indigenous governments and the private sector, as well.

We continue to pursue P3 funding opportunities for infrastructure projects, including a recently approved Tłı̨chǫ All-Season Road, in which the Tłı̨chǫ Government will be a 20 percent equity partner.

Minister Schumann and I met with Indigenous leaders in Inuvik in October to discuss the economic future of the Northwest Territories.  We all agreed that large-scale investment in northern energy, transportation and communications infrastructure corridors is key to creating investment and economic opportunities in all sectors.

We also agreed that our goal remains to create a prosperous, sustainable future built on the foundation of a strong, diversified economy.  Traditional sectors like tourism, agriculture, harvesting, cultural arts and fishing, are important. We must also recognize the large role that non-renewable sectors like mining and oil and gas have and will continue to play in our territory.

A strong economy is the key to a strong territory and a sustainable future for all our people. A strong economy is essential for the growth and development of business and industry. This in turn provides Northwest Territories residents with the jobs and income they need to support themselves and their families.

The Northwest Territories has been built on cooperation, respect and working together and will continue to be developed on those principles. I am pleased with the consensus we achieved in Inuvik and believe that our shared commitment and discussions like the ones being held this week are critical. Together we will create the kind of economic opportunities and prosperity all territorial residents want and deserve.

Thank you.